THUNDERBOLT, Ga. (WSAV) — Shannon O’Brien says she’d be the first to admit her initial “lackadaisical” attitude toward the COVID-19 pandemic.
That was before the disease struck alarmingly close to home.
“Until this hits you personally, you don’t realize how serious this is,” O’Brien told WSAV.com NOW.
“I didn’t think that it was going to affect my life the way that it has,” she said.
The veterinary technician, who’s also studying for her nursing degree, has spent over a decade living in the Savannah area.
She hails from the Northeast, in the New Hampshire and upstate New York region.
Her aunt and uncle, Linda and Robert “Woody” Wood, own the Wood Trucking Corporation up in Peabody, Massachusetts.
“They’re an essential business,” O’Brien said through her face mask. “My aunt worked from home, her office was in her house, and then they have their employees.”
A few weeks ago, one of their workers began complaining about a headache.
“Nobody really thought anything about it,” O’Brien said.
About five days later, that employee wound up in the hospital and tested positive for COVID-19.
The virus then spread to eight other people.
“And it started from there,” O’Brien said.
Her 68-year-old uncle became extremely ill not long after, she says, and chose not to go to the hospital.
“They’re very tough people,” O’Brien shared.
“Never been sick before, no underlying conditions — everybody continually says that this is affecting people with underlying conditions, which is not true,” she added.
Her aunt became sick, as well, but there were no coughs, fever or aches, according to O’Brien.
Linda complained of fatigue, which she assumed came from overexerting herself with her trucking business.
“She worked day and night, she was an extremely busy woman and just thought that she was run down,” O’Brien explained.
Robert began to feel a bit better during recovery at home, and he and his wife stayed in separate rooms.
O’Brien’s 80-year-old mother, who had been staying with her daughter Linda and Robert, had departed for a trip to New York state before the pair became infected.
O’Brien says she thanks God her mom got the all-clear from her doctor and is COVID-19-free.
“She’s scared to go back, of course,” O’Brien said.
“She said, ‘I haven’t spoken to Linda in two days,’ and I said, ‘Well, you better have [my cousin] Johnny stop over or call them,’” O’Brien recalled of their phone conversation.
“[Johnny] stopped to check on them, he had been bringing groceries to them and everything, and that’s when he found her,” O’Brien said.
Her cousin yelled to his father Robert that his mother Linda was unresponsive.
“My uncle says, ‘I was just talking to her 20 minutes ago,’” O’Brien said.
Just a few days after Linda began feeling tired — she was gone.
Linda was 66 years old.
“It happened so quickly,” a visibly emotional O’Brien shared. “It’s just a shock.”
‘She’d do anything for anyone’
The grieving niece said the sudden loss of Aunt Linda is simply unbelievable.
“Even the community can’t believe this,” O’Brien said with tears filling her eyes.
“She would do anything for anyone and improved a lot of people’s lives; her community’s having a hard time with this,” she said.
The broken heart and stress that come with losing a soulmate may have triggered the relapse of symptoms her uncle Robert is currently experiencing.
“They were two peas in a pod running their business together,” she said. “Huge pillars of their community, extremely giving.”
No matter a person’s mood, O’Brien says her aunt Linda always found a way to make them smile.
“She had such a bright personality, and for that to be gone, not to see her again is surreal,” O’Brien shared as her voice cracked.
Before tragedy struck, the Thunderbolt resident had made plans to travel up to Massachusetts on Friday to help her aunt plant flowers for the business’s office.
Linda loved pink daisies.
“I contacted the greenhouse where the flowers and plants were ordered from, and that gentleman’s in the hospital right now,” O’Brien said.
‘This disease is not prejudiced’
Plans for a memorial are on hold while Massachusetts limits or delays services as the outbreak continues.
As she and her family come to terms with the sudden loss of Linda while Robert continues to fight COVID-19, O’Brien says she hopes their story helps sheds light on the seriousness of what’s happening.
“This disease is not prejudiced, it will affect anybody,” O’Brien said.
“A friend of mine said, ‘oh, I trust you, come on in,’ and it’s not a matter of trust,” she said. “She’s an elderly woman; it’s not a matter of trust whatsoever, you don’t know if you’re a carrier or not, it’s so silent.”
O’Brien also says a friend in New Hampshire just went home Monday after spending nine days hospitalized and testing positive for COVID-19.
“She was vomiting, she couldn’t keep anything down — totally not symptoms that are described, she wasn’t running a fever,” O’Brien said of her friend, a mother of four in her 40s.
“[Her family] couldn’t believe it, and they’ve been isolating themselves, so as far as how she came in contact with it, they do not know,” O’Brien said. “And that’s the scary part: you do not know.”
She says she feels the main thing people should keep in mind during this uncertain period is to be kinder to one another.
“We need to respect each other and each other’s health without even knowing that we can affect a person,” O’Brien said.
“Until this happens to them, you just don’t know what this feels like,” she said.